Page 1754 - Week 05 - Thursday, 8 May 2008

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Organised religion does not have a monopoly over morality or ethics. I am concerned that we have now reached a point in Australian public life where our parliaments seemingly require the acquiescence of the major religious leaders to enact laws. Given the position outlined by the ACT Liberals in this debate and in all of the debates around recognition of the rights of same-sex couples, it would appear that we can expect a Seselja government, should that ever occur, to adopt a very similar conservative position on a range of other issues, like abortion and adoption.

It saddens me that the agenda of social inclusion that we have seen embraced by the Rudd government does not appear to extend to fully including gays and lesbians in Australian life. It appears the Rudd government does not want to be seen, even in a technical way, as starting or approving the starting of gay relationships, but it is happy to recognise them if they exist. Registration and civil unions qualify gay and lesbian couples for almost equal treatment, but civil unions, it seems, look too much like weddings and therefore, according to the federal government, they are bad.

The question must be asked: why? There is no logic in opposing civil unions whilst encouraging registration. The federal government apparently does not object to gay couples or object to legally recognising them. It just objects to ceremonies. As one commentator has observed, apparently this is a problem with symbolism, not practicalities. I must admit I find that interesting from a government whose first major efforts have been to apologise to the stolen generations and to sign the Kyoto treaty. The question I would ask is: why shouldn’t same-sex partners be able to stand up in front of their family and friends and receive the blessing of the state for their union? The federal government is effectively saying that some relationships are more legitimate than others and that some loving, committed, long-term relationships are, for some inexplicable reason, of lesser value.

I have said in this place before that good governments seek to lead on important social issues. Good governments set the social agenda for their communities. They govern as leaders, not as followers. This government believes that all loving, committed relationships deserve to be treated equally and to be celebrated. To the extent that this bill, as amended, achieves these aims, it is an important step forward. That said, I acknowledge that this is not all that it could have been and that many are disappointed that it does not go further. Some very important reforms remain in the bill, though. The ACT government will be able to offer many benefits that flow from formal recognition of relationships. Partners will still be able to have ceremonies at which a representative of the ACT government presides.

Strong relationships deliver important benefits to us all. We all define ourselves in some way by those we choose to share our lives with, and love, trust, intimacy and commitment are found at the heart of all good relationships. Even in its modified form, this Civil Partnerships Bill encourages, empowers and protects couples who want to make their relationships loving, long term, stable and committed. We should embrace all such relationships; they enrich us all.

The passage of this bill is a step towards the removal of discrimination that is intensely felt by Canberrans who have been living in long-term, loving, same-sex

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